ICM regularly carry out polls for Retail Week, and you’ll regularly not find me mentioning them since they deal with exciting things like how often you shop at Primark. The most recent one is more interesting however, dealing with question of whether or not people agree with the EU quotas on Chinese textile imports.

Asked straight out if textile imports from China should be limited to protect European clothing manufacturers a substantial majority think they should – 57% compared to 33% opposed.

However, when people are asked how much more they personally would be willing to pay for clothes that are made in the EU, their protectionist insticts seem to fade a bit – 38% wouldn’t pay anything more whatsoever, 21% would pay just 5% more, 19% would pay 10% for European made clothes. Only 3% would pay 25% more for European made clothes.

What I found surprising, is that there is very little difference between this and how much people say they would be willing to pay for British made clothes – 35% would pay no more at all, 21% would pay up to 5% more, 21% would pay up to 10% more, and only 3% would pay 25% more for British made clothes. This suggests that, people are on the whole just as happy to support European clothing manufacturers over cheaper alternatives as they are British ones.

So, what is the actual price differential, how much are people actually paying for the benefit of buying clothes made in the EU rather than China? I’m not aware of any general figures, but the widely quoted example at the time of the stand off was that a blouse that would cost £6.50 to manufacture in China, would cost £7 to make in Eastern Europe and £10 to make in Britain. So if you bought a blouse made in Eastern Europe you would actually be paying 8% more than if you bought an identical Chinese version – if you bought a British made blouse it would cost you 50% more than if the same blouse had been made in China.

(In reality of course, the difference isn’t that much because Chinese imports also face a tariff barrier that domestic goods don’t. For almost all clothes this is 12.4%)

The Times today has the first installment of its Populus Conference poll, this week covering the Liberal Democrats. There was also a small ICM poll on the Liberal Democrats on yesterday’s Politics Show, and a more extensive ICM poll in today’s Guardian.

Populus’s poll shows, as usual, that in terms of party image the Liberal Democrats are very, very strong. Asked about whether various positive comments are true of each party, the Liberal Democrats beat the Conservatives on every count, and are only marginally behind Labour when it comes to being seen as competent and having a good team of leaders. The Liberal Democrats the party who the largest proportion of the country think understands they way they live their lives, shares their values, are honest and principled, have clear ideas for the issues facing the country and (by a huge margin) are seen as the most united party.

So, with an image this good how come more people aren’t voting for them? Populus asked people if they agreed with various statements about the Liberal Democrats – just under half of respondents thought that the Lib Dems would do a good job if they did win power and thought they were a better opposition than the Conservatives, but it was the negative comments that were more telling: almost two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statements that the Liberals Democrats were “basically a protest vote party, because they have no real chance of winning” and “Lib Dems seem decent people but their policies probably don’t really add up.” Worrying for the Liberal Democrats, those agreeing with these statements included almost four out of ten Liberal Democrat voters. Almost of third of those who did vote Lib Dem in May 2005, said that they might not have voted for them if there had been a risk of them actually winning.

Populus also offered respondents a list of possibilites and asked them which would make them more likely to vote Liberal Democrat. Tougher crime policies was the most popular option – 65% of people said this would make them more likely to vote Lib Dem, including an overwhelming 80% of Lib Dem voters. Around half of respondents said that opposing ID cards and replacing council tax with a local income tax, both of which were actually already Lib Dem policy at the last election, would have made them more likely to vote Lib Dem suggesting these are more popular solutions than the direction proposed by “orange book” Lib Dems – only 32% of respondents thought that proposed radical reform of public services with more private sector involvement would make them more likely to vote Lib Dem.

ICM’s poll gave respondents another list of statements about the Lib Dems, and found similar results – a majority of people (56%) thought they were a serious alternative to Labour and the Tories, 59% of people thought they were right to oppose the war in Iraq, but after that it began to turn bad – 60% thought it was hard to know what they really stood for, 58% thought the Lib Dems would tax people like themselves more, and 57% thought they were more concerned about criminals than victims of crime. While almost half of people thought Britain would be better run with the Lib Dems in government, 69% thought people they knew who voted for them were just making a protest vote.

So, the Lib Dems have a wonderfully positive image, but people really know what they stand more, are wary about their policies on tax and crime and don’t take them seriously as a potential government – they are seen as just a particularly pleasant vehicle for protest votes. What to do about it is the task facing the Lib Dems at conference – to be seen as anything other than a protest party, it appears they need to be more clearly defined, the question the Liberal Democrats seem to be asking is what sort of party they want to define themselves as. Are they happy to continue to be seen as a party of the left, or will they pursue the more right-wing agenda suggested by the “orange book” Liberals?

The ICM poll for the Politics showed asked people if they thought the Lib dems were positioned closer to Labour or the Conservatives – people overwhelmingly put them closer to Labour. The Guardian’s ICM poll asked people to put the Lib Dems on a scale from left to right. 35% put them at the centre, but 30% put them to the left-of-centre, compared to only 10% who put them to the right-of-centre (25% didn’t know). The Lib Dems were closely aligned with their own voters, 51% of whom placed themselves at the same place as the Lib dems. They also seem well placed to take disillusioned Labour voters; 29% of them place the Lib Dems at the same place on the left-right scale as themselves.

If they want to target disillusioned Conservative voters, they face a more difficult task – 40% of Conservative voters categorise the Lib Dems as being left of centre and 61% place them to the left of their own position. If the Lib Dem strategy is to continue to target the Conservatives, then they may need to address a perceived drift to the left.

Finally there is the Charlie Kennedy question. In Populus’s poll 33% of people thought that replacing Kennedy with a “more credible” figure would make them more likely to vote Lib Dem, Lib Dem voters themselves were just as likely to agree with this. The ICM/Guardian poll asked respondents straight out if, after 6 years as leader, it was time for Kennedy to stand down. 30% thought he should go, 58% thought he should stay. Amongst Lib Dem voters there was still very strong support for Kennedy, but a substantial minority thought it was time he went – 77% said stay, 20% said go.

(I know I have also promised you all a look at Peter Kellner’s paper from the Political Quarterly – don’t worry, that too is on its way)


As well as the questions on the Lib Dems, covered in the article above, ICM’s latest poll also had some surprising figures on Gordon Brown and Ken Clarke. The poll suggests that, with Clarke and Brown as party leaders the Conservatives would fall back very slightly (almost exacly echoing the YouGov poll in last week’s Sunday Times), but unlike the YouGov poll Gordon Brown would not boost Labour, rather it would be the Lib Dems who would benefit from the change.

This is an unusual poll to say the least. So far every poll that had asked how people would vote with Gordon Brown in charge has shown an increase in the Labour vote, often a huge one. As an example, two days before the general election YouGov asked how people would vote if Gordon Brown was leader – the Labour lead went from 4% to 13%.

The topline figures in this month’s ICM poll appear to be CON 31%, LAB 40%, LD 21% – the figures for an imaginary election with Brown and Clarke as leader are CON 30%, LAB 38%, LD 25%, so far from increasing the Labour vote, it suggests that Brown would drive some voters towards the Liberal Democrats.

This is a dramatic turnaround. It could be that the earlier questions in the poll that asked people if they were more or less likely to vote for the parties with difference leaders, and asked them to place themselves on a left-right scale compared to each party influenced their answers, or it could simply be that Gordon Brown has suddenly fallen in the public’s estimation. The poll was taken when the media spotlight was on fuel tax, an issue where Gordon Brown took a main role in defending the government’s stance – perhaps that affected his support. Either way, this poll does cast some sort of doubt on the accepted wisdom that Gordon Brown’s accession will be an immediate boost for the Government.

Incidentally, the tables in the pdf file for the Brown/Clarke voting intention on the Guardian’s website do not match the figures in the article, which suggests that ICM have (rightly for purposes of comparison!) made the same sort of adjustment for the spiral of silence as they do in there main voting intention polls.

Yesterday’s YouGov poll in the Sunday Times actually included quite a lot of questions about President Bush, far more than the two reported in the paper. I think it’s fair to say that the British public are not over-enamoured of him.

The overwhelming majority of respondents thought that President Bush had handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina very badly (60%) or quite badly (26%), and 63% thought that his response would have been greater and faster if New Orleans had been a city full of white, middle-class people. 48% thought that the deployment of US troops in Iraq has made the crisis worse. 57% of people thought that the handling of Hurricane Katrina, in combination with Iraq, showed that President Bush was “one of the worst presidents America has ever had.”

Asking about George Bush in general, the strength of negative opinion was overwhelming – 70% thought Bush was incompetent, 60% thought he was stupid, 68% thought he wasn’t concerned about ordinary people, 66% thought he was untrustworthy. There was an obvious correlation between British party support and opinions on President Bush. Liberal Democrat voters were even more united in their negative attitudes towards Bush than the population as a whole (84% thought he was incompetent, 73% thought him stupid), Labour voters were somewhere inbetween while Conservative voters had the least negative opinion of the US President, though even then their opinion was negative.

There is, of course, no particular reason for President Bush to care what British people think of him, even if they do seem to overwhelmingly accept the Michael Moore version of him. It does seem to have something of a knock on effect on British attitudes to the USA. Asked if they thought the United States were a force for good in the world, 47% of people disagreed, with only 36% agreeing. Again there was a strong difference between different party supporters: Conservative supporters were relatively pro-American, 53% thought that the US was a force for good; Lib Dems were comparatively anti-American, only 19% thought the US was a force for good. Asked if respondents saw themselves as closer to the US or to Europe, the same pattern emerged – Conservative voters looked more to America, though only just (48% compared to 42% who felt closer to Europe), Labour and Lib Dem voters both felt closer to Europe than they did to the US.

Today’s Sunday Times has a new YouGov poll which again compares how people would vote with Davis or Clarke as Tory leader. While it echoes Populus’s recent poll in showing that Clarke would perform better than Davis, unlike Populus it suggests that both potential leaders would trail a long way behind a Brown-led Labour party.

The standard voting intention figures were CON 32%, LAB 37%, LDEM 21%. Asked how they would vote if Gordon Brown was the Labour leader and Ken Clarke the Conservative leader, Labour’s lead would jump up to 11 points with the Conservatives on 31%, Labour on 42% and the Lib Dems on 17%. Asked the same question, but with David Davis as leader, Labour’s lead would be even larger – 14 points, with the Conservatives on 30%, Labour on 44% and the Lib Dems on 18%.

The main difference between the two scenarios isn’t actually the Conservatives – there is very little difference between the level of Conservative support – it’s Labour. With Clarke as Tory leader Labour would get 42%, with Davis as leader they would get 44%. A possible explanation is that Clarke would indeed win more votes from Labour as leader, but they would be partially cancelled out by Tory voters drifting away to UKIP or other fringe parties.

Anyway, leaving such speculation behind the bottom line is that , while Clarke again comes out top, the poll doesn’t tell us a huge amount about the respective popularities of Clarke and Davis, when they are put aside the huge impact that Gordon Brown will make on voting intentions once he takes over.

YouGov also asked a straight forward question on who people would like to see as party leader. As usual Clarke was the runaway leader on 42% with Davis second on 16%. Liam Fox’s launch does seem to have had some minimal impact, since he is now third on 9%. Rifkind and Cameron are both on 6%. Bear in mind that, unlike most if not all of the other questions asking about people’s prefered leader, this had been re-percventaged to exclude don’t knows.

Moving on there were a variety of other questions in the YouGov/Sunday Times poll. Respondents were asked about a variety of possible policies the Tories might take forward, 47% of people supported a policy of withdrawing from the EU if there was not repatriation of powers (29% opposed), 46% supported cutting taxes and public spending (28% opposed), 50% supported radical reform of schools and the NHS, including possible privatisation (28% opposed), and 72% supported tax policies that benefit those on middle income, as opposed to those on low income (strange finding that – it’ll be interesting to see what the breakdown by social class was) [UPDATE – not so strange, it was a mistake by the Sunday Times. The poll actually found that people wanted the Conservative’s to give less help to the well off and more to average and low income families, which makes more sense]

YouGov also asked about President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina – 60% said he handled the crisis very badly, while only 1% thought he handled it very well. 63% thought he would have done more if the victims had be white and middle-class. Not, I suppose, that George Bush will lose much sleep over what British voters think of his performance.

Finally YouGov asked about foreign takeovers of British firms. 69% of people said they were concerned about British companioes falling into foreign ownership, while 63% said they thought the government should take some form of steps to prevent large British companies being taken over by foreign groups.